Nethan'el ben Moshe HaLevi, Gaon, ha-Shishi al-Fustat

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Nethan'el ben Moshe HaLevi, Gaon, ha-Shishi al-Fustat

Death: circa 1170 (46-63)
Immediate Family:

Son of Abu l-Bāyan Moshe ben Mevorakh (Mubārak), Nagid, Raʾīs al-Yahūd al-Fustat

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About Nethan'el ben Moshe HaLevi, Gaon, ha-Shishi al-Fustat

Nethanel ben Moses ha-Levi

Nethanel ben Moses ha-Levi was a physician at the Fatimid court, a renowned scholar, and a communal leader in twelfth-century Egypt. The Cairo Geniza has preserved a fascinating letter that Nethanel wrote to his friends as a youth. In it he complains that his father, Moses, then the “Sixth in the Society of Scholars” (i.e., the yeshiva) and a physician in the government hospital, had paid him 25 dinars, a large amount by any standard, to stay home and study rather than go out with his friends. The investment paid off: Nethanel became a famous physician and received an appointment to the Fatimid court.

According to a panegyric by Judah ha-Levi, who visited Egypt sometime between 1140 and 1144, Nethanel was renowned for his scholarship throughout the Jewish world from Spain to Iraq. Daniel ben Ḥasday, the exilarch in Babylonia, awarded Nethanel the title rosh yeshiva shel gola (Heb. head of the yeshiva of the exile), a title previously held by his father. He apparently extended this honor in connection with his struggle against the Palestinian yeshiva, then based in Damascus, in furtherance of his aim to establish the authority of Babylonia over the yeshiva in Fustat.

Nethanel succeeded Samuel ben Hananiah as nagid of the Egyptian Jewish community in 1159. Geniza documents replete with honorific titles and epithets illustrate his standing as a judge. Sometime after 1169, with the fall of the Fatimid caliphate, he relinquished the office of nagid in favor of his brother Sar Shalom, but he continued as gaon. He died after 1184.

Benjamin of Tudela, who spent about a year in Egypt around 1170, said of him: “Among the Jews is Nethanel, the Prince of Princes, the head of the yeshiva, the head of all the congregations in Egypt. He appoints rabbis and cantors, and is in attendance to the Great King who has his seat in the palace in Cairo, the royal city.”

Elinoar Bareket


Benjamin of Tudela. Itinerary, ed. and trans. Marcus N. Adler (London: Henry Frowde, 1907; repr. New York, n.d.), trans. pp. 70–71

Goitein, S. D. A Mediterranean Society, vol. 5 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988), pp. 426–-432.

Gil, Moshe, and Ezra Fleischer. Yehuda Ha-Levi and His Circle (Jerusalem: World Union of Studies, 2001), p. 53.

Citation Elinoar Bareket. " Nethanel ben Moses ha-Levi." Encyclopedia of Jews in the Islamic World. Executive Editor Norman A. Stillman. Brill Online , 2013. Reference. Jim Harlow. 15 January 2013 <>

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